It was like the FIA GT Championship of old as Vitaphone Racing's Maserati MC12 took a crushingly dominant win in the Qualifying Race for the third round of the FIA GT1 World Championship.
The German based squad, which won the team's title five times in the series' previous iteration, had atrted both its familiar turquoise and black cars from the front, but still found themselves challenge away from the rolling start and into turn one. While the two Maseratis kept lock step side-by-side on the right of the track, Peter Dumbreck's no.23 Sumo Power GT Nissan surged down the right, looking to pass both cars around the outside of Brno's 180-degree turn one.
However, while Miguel Ramos fell to the charging Scotsman Michael Bartels in the no.1 car fought off the challenge, rounding the corner to take an unchallenged lead. Meanwhile Ramos found himself swamped by the field, falling behind three more car in the opening turns in sixth at the end of the first lap. Dumbreck's first corner move had ended in second with Darren Turner now in third, the Young Driver AMR looking to bounce back from being stripped of their on-track Silverstone win a ruling which their appeal over turned down earlier this week.
Dumbreck's Nissan GT-R may have been holding up the Aston with Turner never more than a second behind the bumper of the second place man, but no matter what the case Bartels was making good his escape. The leader galloped away, building a cushion of almost six seconds within six laps and continuing to gain at least half second on nearly every lap before the half-way pitstops.
The race was quiet by the standards the series has already set itself after just two weekends of racing, the action no doubt not helped by the twisting nature of the Czech Republic circuit which offers very few obvious passing places, especially for the big, evenly matched GT cars.
Of course there are always exceptions – Ramos's hasty retreat through the field being one, and the progress of the other Sumo Power Nissan being another.
Saddled with 40kg after being awarded the Silverstone win the no.22 car had only managed 21st in the 23 cars field in qualifying – the field remaining one short of its full strength despite first racing appearance of a second Matech Competition Ford GT thanks to the dramatic Silverstone fire ruling the no.14 Corvette out of the weekend.
Jamie Campbell-Walter started the car and immediately started making up ground, passing the back-markers to move into the top-15. The charge gave the first half of the race its only glimpse of any real excitement, Campbell-Walter searching down the inside of Bert Longin into turn one. Despite the Nissan on his inside Longin still tried to turn-in the right-rear of the Hegersport Maserati catching the front of the Nissan.
Longin wiggled momentarily towards the outside of the track allowing Campbell-Walter through, though the stewards still found it necessary to warn Longin with a black-and-white flag, presumably simply for defending his position.
One the pitstop window was opened the Turner was the first of the leaders to pit, handing over to home nation hero Tomas Enge at the earliest possible opportunity. The stop, whether by accident or quirk of the team's regular strategy put Enge in clear air. Having watched his teammate forced to obedient follow the Nissan for the first half Enge set about making sure he wouldn't do the same, using the two laps before Dumbreck pitted to great effect, setting what would be the race's fastest lap (1:57.033) to not just overhall the Nissan, now with Michael Krumm at the wheel, but pull out a ten second gap to the German.
That gave Enge a chance to try and reel in the lead Bartels had accrued, for a handful of laps, just after the pitstops, it looked as through Enge may attempt, and even stand a chance of challenging for the lead, cutting nearly a second off the lead over two laps, but with a relatively two additional points on offer if he could catch and pass the Maserati, Enge chose to preserve the car for tomorrow's Championship Race.
The main battles, though they were more like trains on the Brno layout, lay further down the field. Jamie Campbell-Walter's charge had been halted by a pitstop to hand over to Warren Hughes and the Nissan had moved up to ninth, with a train of cars led by the no.10 Hexis Aston Martin on it's bumper. But ahead was an even larger train, sorry, I mean battle. The sister Hexis entry of Fred Makowiecki, was looking to overtake Enrique Bernoldi, the Brazilian having replaced Ramos in the no.2 Vitaphone car, while ahead Romain Grosjean was trying to pass Xavier Maassen's Mad Croc Corvette for fifth.
Several time both Grosjean and Makowiecki had half-hearted looks round their intended prey into turn one, and Grosjean looked to have the measure of Maassen around the twists of Brno, only for Corvette to pull away down the straights – the Matech team seemingly still suffering from the straight line speed disadvantage that nullified their weekend at Silverstone. The quartet would remain unchanged before the checkered flag of the one hour race, though a final corner dive from Grosjean almost let Bernoldi past on the drag to the line.
Behind the no.10 Aston would steal ninth of the final lap, Hughes ending the team's heroic charge up the field with the car embedded in the turn three tyre wall for reasons as yet unknown.
With Bartels and Bertolini both collecting eight points for the win they move top of the championship points table, three points clear of Grosjean and Thomas Mutsch. The Dumbreck/Krumm Nissan rounded out the points scorers with the no.38 all-inkl.com Lamborghini of Dominik Schwager and Nicky Pastorelli finishing a very creditable fourth for a team that has struggled so far this year.